Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday announced a sweeping new environmental initiative to cap his final year in office, signing an executive order that commits the state to a goal of 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, up from a previous target of 1.5 million by 2025, and a plan to spend $2.5 billion in new funding to encourage motorists to buy cleaner vehicles.
Right now, with Nissan Leafs, Teslas and other electric cars becoming more commonplace on its highways, California has far more electric vehicles than any other state, about 350,000. But hitting Brown's new goal -- a nearly 15-fold increase from current levels -- will be a major challenge.
Brown's order means that a huge state investment in charging stations, along with more tax credits, rebates and other initiatives, will be needed in the next decade to reach the target. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in California, accounting for about 39 percent of the total, with most of that coming from passenger cars and SUVs.
Brown hinted at the new plan on Thursday during his state-of-the-state speech, but his message was lost by most observers in a speech filled with a myriad of other topics, from prison reform to health care.
"The goal is to make our neighborhoods and farms healthier, our vehicles cleaner -- zero emission the sooner the better -- and all of our technologies increasingly lowering their carbon output," Brown said in the speech.
"To meet these ambitious goals, well need 5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030 and we're going to get there, believe me. We only have 350,000 today, so we've all got a lot of work. And think of all the jobs, and how much cleaner our air will be then."
The Earth's climate continues to warm and Brown has made the issue a central feature of his current term as governor. The 10 hottest years since 1880, when modern temperature records began, have all occurred since 1998, and last year, California suffered heat waves and record wildfires, from Napa and Sonoma counties to Santa Barbara.
Doubling-down on goals set by his predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brown in recent has signed laws committing the state to generating 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.
To reach the second goal, much more must be done to reduce the amount of gasoline California burns, experts say.
"There is no way on Earth they can reach their greenhouse gas goals unless they do something to force a lot more electric vehicles in the mix," said James Sweeney, director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University. "That's the reality. I don't think they will be able to meet the goals even if they do force a lot more electric vehicles in the mix because there are all of the existing vehicles on the road."
Brown's order on Friday lays out an eight-year plan for the state to spend $2.5 billion between now and 2025 dramatically expanding the number of electric vehicle charging stations from roughly 14,000 now to 250,000. The number of high-speed charging stations would increase from roughly 1,500 now to 10,000 and the number of hydrogen fueling stations would jump statewide from 31 now to 200.
Zero-emission vehicles is a category that includes electric cars, buses and trucks that run on batteries alone. They also include plug-in hybrid vehicles that run on electricity but have small gasoline engines, like the Chevy Volt, the BMW 740e and the Chrysler Pacifica mini-van. And they include fuel cell vehicles that run on hydrogen gas.
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